Remembering Ninoy

Natashya Gutierrez

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MANILA, Philippines — It was a sea of yellow.

Yellow ribbons adorned the railings of SM Megamall’s Atrium lobby, yellow flowers lined the entrance to a photo exhibit, and attendees of the special event likewise donned yellow – all to celebrate the 28th death anniversary of the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr.

A photo exhibit entitled, “Ninoy, My Hero” opened on August 21 to commemorate Ninoy’s life, an event that drew a crowd of friends, family, students and admirers who came to pay tribute to the fallen hero’s contributions to Philippine democracy. His son, now President Benigno S. Aquino III, also came to remember his father.

The President’s sister, Pinky Aquino Abellada, cut the ribbon to officially open the exhibit, after which a short program honoring Ninoy commenced.

A series of audio-visual presentations showed Ninoy in various speaking engagements from Fort Bonifacio to New York, Los Angeles to Boston. He spoke of the hardships he faced during his five-and-a-half years of solitary confinement in America, his hope for justice in the country he left behind, and his desire to dismantle a Martial Law regime.

He also shared moments of weaknesses when he questioned the existence of God and debated whether to apologize to the Marcos family to regain his freedom. Ultimately, he realized that his time in jail only made him stronger and his faith deeper.

Musician Ryan Cayabyab and the Ryan Cayabyab Singers performed four songs in between the screenings to remember Ninoy, including “I fell in love with the same woman for the third time,” and “Invocation,” both written by Ninoy, and arranged by Cayabyab.

A testimonial from Jun Galman Monson, a youth leader whose life was inspired by Ninoy, wrapped up the program. While he was not yet alive during Ninoy’s time, he said, he and the youth owed the democracy they currently enjoy to Ninoy. He also assured President Aquino that the youth supported him.

Ang kabataang Pilipino ay nasa iyong likod (The Filipino youth is behind you),” he said. “Ilalagay namin ang Pilipinas sa tama (We will put the Philippines on the right path).”

Unplanned, President Aquino went on stage in a spontaneous gesture of gratitude to share a few words. He talked about the call that his father received a day before his scheduled flight home, warning him of impending death if he continued with his plan to return. This, according to the President, led him to question his own courage.

He encouraged Filipinos to continue hoping, to finish what his father started, and to bring peace to the country. “Kailangan naman ho sigurong masabi nating hindi sayang ang sakripisyo niya, (Perhaps we need to be able say that his sacrifice was not for naught),” he said. “Siguro naman po kailangan nating maipangako sa susunod na salinlahi: wala nang hihinging ganitong klaseng sakripisyo (Perhaps we should be able to promise to the next generation: there will no longer be the need to ask for this kind of sacrifice).”

After the program, President Aquino toured the exhibit to view the photos of Ninoy, as well as art pieces for sale created by cartoonists on why Ninoy is a hero. A mural on a wall that asked, “Who is your hero?” invited the public to share and write their answers on it.

President Aquino also fielded questions from the media on various issues before leaving, such as the recent talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the new tourism secretary’s identity, which he refused to divulge. Asked if he still harbored ill feelings toward those who assassinated his father, he replied that while there are key personalities worth investigating, manufacturing evidence would only lead to further injustices.

The photo exhibit will be at SM Megamall until the 27th of August, after which, it will be transferred to other SM malls across the nation — in major cities like Cebu, Davao, and Cagayan de Oro. Proceeds from the sold art pieces will go to the Cory-Ninoy Foundation to support impoverished school children.

Among those present in the event were members of Congress, Cabinet secretaries, and members of the EDSA People Power Commission, who co-organized the exhibit with SM Supermalls.

Follow the reporter on Twitter: @natashya_g

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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.